Advances in dentistry have brought about new tools, easier and more comfortable x-ray procedures, new and improved porcelain and bonding materials, and gismos and gadgets of all kinds that make for an all-around better experience in the dental chair. One of these miracle inventions is the sealant. Dental sealants are air-tight plastic compounds placed over the chewing surfaces of pre-molars and molars in children to prevent cavities. They are generally used when the surface of the molar is rough with fissures and pits, but some dentists are using them routinely on all of their pediatric patients. The idea behind the sealants is to cover up the grooves in the tooth that toothbrush bristles may not reach properly, and to create a barrier against food and the formation of plaque.
Do sealants really work? It appears so. According to a group that evaluates medical research, the Cochran Collaboration, after five years, kids who have sealants showed less than half of the decay seen from those who simply brushed regularly. Even with regular cleanings and attentive dental hygiene, plaque can get into crevices in teeth and cause cavities. These cavities will need to be filled and that filling may fail at some point down the road. That tooth would then need a root canal and crown. The crown cannot always protect the tooth from bacteria seeping in or the tooth breaking under the crown, ultimately resulting in the loss of the tooth. While this may be an extreme example, the point of sealants is to stop any of this from happening in the first place through preventing decay. Dentists are excited about the results they have seen in using sealants, and even insurance companies are getting on board. Most dental insurance providers will cover sealants on molars, or at least a percentage of the cost, for kids under 14 years old. Kids with smooth teeth will not necessarily benefit from sealants as much as those with grooved edges, but many parents are opting to shield those teeth anyway, as an extra precaution. The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” still rings true.